Friday, 29 August 2014

FEATURE: 1984-A-Thon - The Company of Wolves

Our look at Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves is part of a huge event organised by Forgotten Films to celebrate the films of 1984, a year in which a whole bunch of great films were released, and some not so great ones too. We've been fortunate enough to get my hands on one of the good ones and you check out what other bloggers have been writing about on the Forgotten Films site. You can also check out the hashtag #84athon on Twitter to find out who else is taking part.

"Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet."

Set within the dreams of an adolescent girl, Rosaleen (played by Sarah Patterson), The Company of Wolves is a dark and nightmarish trip through some of Angela Carter's fairytales, threaded through the main dream of Rosaleen and her Granny (Angela Lansbury). The various tales which appear throughout the film's puzzlebox structure are based on some of those which appeared in her short story collection entitled The Bloody Chamber (well worth a read). This includes the main narrative, based on The Company of Wolves short story which was adapted by Carter into a radio play and forms the basis of the film. All of the tales featured are centred around the image of the wolf, a beast which haunts the forest, sometimes hunting in packs, sometimes attacking on their own.

Fairytales have long held sway over the imaginations of their readers, remoulded and transformed depending upon the audience they are intended for. The tales of the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen were originally cautionary morality tales, keeping children and women in line with their haunting messages of disfigurements, violence and loss. Since the Disney reworking of the fairytale into the 'Happily Ever Afters' we've come to be more familiar with, the genre has become something of a byword for light and fluffy tales of true love and rainbows and smiles.

The Bloody Chamber is a collection of tales that emulates the fairytale genre, though it has often been incorrectly described as subversive retellings of popular fairytales with a feminist twist. Whilst some of the stories are clearly based on existing fairytales, Carter's intention was 'not to do 'versions' or, as the American edition of the book said, horribly, 'adult' fairytales, but to extract the latent content from the traditional stories and to use it as the beginnings of new stories" (Carter, quoted in The Bloody Chamber Introduction). Carter's tales are filled with a macabre menace, focusing on the heroines and their sexuality and desires.

There are a few films in the 1980s that tap into this new, darker fantasy like Willow, Labyrinth or Legend. Particularly with Labyrinth and Legend, there is the latent sexual content throughout that threatens to derail their female protagonists. In The Company of Wolves, this undercurrent is carried across, much as it is in the original stories on which it is based. What connects the fairytales throughout the film is the idea of a loss of innocence, particularly at the point of burgeoning adolescence and sexuality. The various facets of this transitionary experience (the fear, the excitement, the danger) is encapsulated within the symbol of the wolf, a symbol which transforms itself within each story to represent something different for each of the stories' central female characters.

The nightmarish landscape is captured beautifully in the medieval forest in which much of the action is set. Branches loom over pathways, houses disappear into the trees themselves and a mist drifts across the sets. It makes for an imposing world, one in which threats can appear quickly and without warning. The production design captures that adroitly, as well as recreating the sort of villages, costumes and general rustic qualities that we expect from traditional fairytales. The colour palette builds into this; most hues are cold browns or dark greens with flashes of brilliant red, fitting in with the sexual symbolism of the stories.

Sex is everywhere in this film, overtly or otherwise, infiltrating every aspect of the unfolding narratives whether it's Rosaleen catching sight of her parents having sex in the dead of night just a few feet away from her or the sermon about the wolf lying with the lamb. The gift of the red shawl to Rosaleen is significant, situated just before she spies her parents and when she begins to pay attention to the village boy who desires her. Bringing forth the sexual undertones of the story's inspiration, Little Red Riding Hood, particularly in her relationship with the huntsman in this film, Jordan and Carter use it to symbolise Rosaleen's sexual awakening, culminating with her exceptionally creepy climactic encounter with the gentleman wolf.

As well as the constant foreboding atmosphere brought on by production design, the stories carry with them their own particular brand of horror. The story of the young bride and her travelling man groom is especially grotesque despite seeming fairly jolly at the start. Their marriage is a happy, pastoral affair that soon gives way to sadness when the groom disappears. However, after the bride's second marriage, her first husband returns and transforms himself into a wolf. The special effects here are fairly spectacular as well as horrific and whilst it may not be a lycanthropic transformation to rival An American Werewolf in London, it still cuts an impressively grotesque image.

The performances are routinely excellent across the board with key brief appearances from the likes of Stephen Rea and Terence Stamp (as the Devil no less). Particularly impressive is the young Sarah Patterson in the central role of Rosaleen. As the central thru-line for the stories, she is called upon to anchor the various stories as well as fill the role of the fairytale heroine. She does so well, offering a wide-eyed innocence to the proceedings. The character still falls into the trap that has befallen many a fairytale heroine in that she is quite a bland figure, despite Patterson's appeal.

The real star of the show though is Angela Lansbury's Granny, a mix of cuddly maternal figure and stern matriarch. She is given the most opportunity for comedy, booting a would-be admirer of Rosaleen up the backside and loudly voicing her disapproval. She also carries the right amount of menace when it comes to telling the nastier stories and offering warnings around sexual morality in amusing aphorisms. The film lifts whenever she is on screen, breaking the melancholy with a knowing nod and a cheeky wink.

Neil Jordan's direction allows all of this to shine throughout the film, no mean feat considering its fractured and layered structure and perfectly captures the dark atmosphere of Carter's tales. With the recent desire to revisit fairytales in films and make them more akin to their Grimm counterparts, it's refreshing to go back to one that succeeds in creating a deeply unsettling tale of female sexuality and those that threaten it.

- Becky

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Thursday, 28 August 2014

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Amends

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Angel has returned from a hell dimension, but the gang are struggling to forgive him for the murders he committed beforehand, namely Jenny Calendar.

It's a rare festive episode this time with Amends, the Joss Whedon take on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol via your standard supernatural route. It's unseasonably hot in Sunnydale as the holiday season gets underway, both Christmas and Hanukkah for Willow who is not worshipping at the altar of Santa. Angel begins seeing the faces of victims past in his dreams and in front of him, tormenting him about his previous life and trying to guilt him into committing suicide for their own ends. Buffy and her really awful fringe decide to try and bring him back. 

Redemption is very much the order of the day here, not just for Angel who we shall talk about later, but for the Scoobies themselves who are still making their own amends for mistakes earlier in the season. Oz and Willow's reconciliation is suitably low-key and adorable, beginning with an awkward hug, nearly flatlining with an unsuccessful seduction attempt and yet still remaining nice and sweet at the end. Xander and Giles too make their peace with Buffy's relationship with Angel, offering her their help in his time of need.

The subject matter ensures that it is pretty gloomy for a Christmas episode though I don't really expect Buffy to indulge in something light and fluffy involving elves or candycanes. There are small moments of welcome relief in the episode like Xander's attempt to get information out of Willy the Snitch or Willow's seduction with added Barry White. What it does do is hark back to the Dickensian tale I mentioned at the beginning without the sense of humour. The First takes on the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, haunting Angel with his victims and mistakes, taunting him into believing that he will never be able to repent for his actions. Buffy becomes his Christmas Present (both in temporal and relationship terms - they officially get back together here), trying everything to keep him in the world and talk him down from committing suicide. Angel therefore becomes his own Christmas Future, offered a second chance with a Christmas miracle as snow falls on a sunless Sunnydale morning.

For a relatively small scale episode in the middle of the third season, Amends has got a fair amount going on in it which will have further repercussions across both this series and on to Angel. It seems appropriate to kick off with The First Evil, the foe of the episode trying to get Angel to turn evil in this instalment and then going on to be the eventual final season Big Bad. For something that will have a massive impact on Sunnydale later, the First don't really make all that much of an impression here, acting as more of a facilitator for character moments than a foe in their own right though they do offer weird dream sex to tempt Angel into killing Buffy and turn evil again. Nefarious. Also, their minions are creepy, particularly if you have a thing about missing eyes (I do), and the First's ill-defined powers offer a glimpse into Angel's past (and a less than welcome return for Appalling Irish Accent Angel). 

However, what it does do is give David Boreanaz a chance dig a bit deeper into the good side of the equation. Much of his guilt stems not from his strength as a vampire, but from his weakness as a man. The flashback to his human life shows him drunkenly falling over, seen earlier in the series, his turning with Darla is based more on the fact that he thought he was going to have sex with her than actually becoming a vampire and losing his soul to Buffy is seen as a sign of weakness by all involved. Throughout his whole speech, he refers to this chance to commit suicide, to rid the world of his evil, as something strong, until Buffy turns it around on him by stating the strong thing to do would be to stay and fight it.

In that beautiful, haunting final scene before the snow starts to fall, it sets up Angel's solo mission swiftly with the idea that he can repent for his previous sins. Angel suddenly gets a renewed focus and an extra depth that being Buffy's beau just never offered. His final scene in which his soul is laid bare and he is seconds from suicide is a powerful rendition of complete and utter desolation. It's one of the best pieces of writing in the entire series and perfectly establishes Angel's renewed sense of self.

The final Christmas Miracle snowfall that allows Angel to escape with his life has been talked about a lot over the years since it first aired. It's hard to avoid the overtly Christian connotations in such an act, particularly given the episode's themes of redemption and repentance, but it also allows for your own interpretation. Though The First take credit for bringing Angel back, that wouldn't account for the miracle to keep him alive. Personally, I think it's the Powers That Be who go on to help Angel in his own series are responsible, particularly given the Shanshu Prophecy. Oops. Getting ahead of myself there (very much looking forward to starting Angel too).

Quote of the Week:

Angel: It's not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy. It's the man.

Let's Get Trivial: The Mutant Enemy at the end of this episode wears a Santa hat.

- Becky

You can check out Becky's look at previous episode The Wish here.

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Wednesday, 27 August 2014

TV REVIEW: Doctor Who - Deep Breath

After changing his face from Matt Smith to Peter Capaldi in the Christmas special, the Doctor finds himself out of sorts in Victorian London and it is up to Clara and the Paternoster Gang to bring him back in line as well as facing a mysterious threat.

Unlike Smith's appointment, Capaldi's tenure as the Doctor was greeted largely with enthusiasm and with the promise of a darker, calmer Gallifreyan, the opening episode has been highly anticipated. It also has the added promise of having been directed by Ben Wheatley, he of Kill List and Sightseers fame. There's a new TARDIS and new opening credits, slightly more discordant and unsettling than before, in keeping with the new, more fractious Doctor. The cogs and whirling clock faces suggest something more mechanical, something perhaps more timey-wimey waiting to be broken and fractured. It's an interesting development and whilst I'm not as immediately keen on these new credits as I was for the Matt Smith era, but it's a suitably intriguing introduction.

The atmosphere then for Deep Breath is also suitably menacing, a slow burn of tension undercut with some great examples of humour for Capaldi to get his teeth and independent eyebrows stuck into. The foe, a cyborg that keeps cannibalising parts from both machinery and humans to keep existing, provides an interesting parallel to the Doctor and his regeneration as well as starkly reminding us that the cyborg has forgotten his identity over the course of his transformations whilst the Doctor remembers. The design of the cyborg, with his half face and gentleman's attire, offers a suitably creepy figures whilst the physical performances of his puppets were ridiculously creepy.

Heroes are always more interesting when faced with a villain who forms some kind of mirror image and it once again proves here. Forced to assert his own identity in the face of someone cannibalising theirs, the Doctor gets a chance to find his confidence, his purpose and most of all, coming to terms with who he now is. In that sense, Deep Breath is an extraordinarily layered piece of work for a first episode; the mirrors that occupy the walls of various sets, Madame Vestra's veil and the constant references to new and old faces all build towards an intriguing exploration of the Doctor's identity.

It's Capaldi that immediately proves to be the standout, as expected, bringing an underlying grim quality to the Doctor that comes across as a mish-mash of earlier doctors like Hartnell with the occasional glimpse of impish humour that Tennant or Smith tapped into. His Doctor is broken and disorientated, lacking in identity and incapable of remembering anything from his surroundings. That trauma is brought out throughout Capaldi's performance, occasional flashes of pain in his expressions as well as the steely determination to work out what is wrong.

His performance brings out something particularly brilliant in Jenna Coleman as returning companion Clara, fiercely going toe-to-toe with Capaldi in every scene together. Like the Doctor, Clara undergoes something of her own identity crisis, no longer defined as the Impossible Girl living to serve the Doctor. She finds herself the necessary link back to the Doctor's self, but she's not just working to bring him back, but herself as well. The episode is the poorer for keeping them separate and in the opening half lacks the same zip of its later scenes, precisely because Clara and the Doctor are kept apart. However, once they find themselves thrown together, the episode picks up a brilliant sense of pace building to a wonderfully tense final showdown between the mechanicals and our heroes.

With the longer runtime, the episode is given much more of a chance to spread out the story and despite suffering from a couple of earlier pacing issues, it's refreshing to feel like the episode is moving a little too slowly rather than whizzing by in manically delivered exposition. The final cameo from Matt Smith offered a sense of closure that his regeneration didn't which felt a little too quick at the time. I also don't particularly mind spending time with the Paternoster Gang, unlike others, and any episode that features Strax attempting to aerial silk acrobatics is going to get an upvote from me.

Deep Breath may not be a perfect episode, but it's certainly an excellent one to kick off a new era for Doctor Who and teases some interesting developments for both the Doctor and Clara. I'm already sold on Capaldi and Clara proves to have some life in her yet.

- Becky

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Wednesday, 20 August 2014

FEATURE: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Wish

Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy struggles to come to terms with having Angel in her life.  Willow and Xander have been caught in a clinch by Oz and Cordelia, their relationships breaking up as a result. 

One of Buffy's many themes is 'be careful what you wish for', which is wise really considering that everyone lives in a place where wishes can be granted by pretty much any so-powered demon, witch or warlock that you come across. Cordelia learns the lesson the very hard way after she decides to try and right the wrongs that Xander has done to her, not by laying the blame at Xander's feet, but instead at Buffy's. Her logic is that Buffy's appearance in Sunnydale disturbed the status quo so much that Cordelia ended up falling for Xander. When she wishes that Buffy never came to Sunnydale in front of vengeance demon Anyanka, she gets exactly that, but the consequences aren't exactly what she imagined.

Series episodes that take place in a bizarro version of the usual events are often amongst the most entertaining, offering a virtual blank slate for the writers to go a little wacky with their ideas. The Wish is one such episode and its alternate reality does not disappoint. Usually, the 'reset' at the end of the episode is something that particularly annoys me because it makes an episode feel pointless. However, in Buffy, the question of 'what happened if Buffy never arrived in Sunnydale?' is a pretty spectacular one and writer Marti Noxon and director David Greenwalt go to town on the concept. This isn't an episode for the characters to develop; it's one in which the audience learns just how vital the concept of friends and family is to the show and the Scoobies.

In order to do this, The Wish strips everything back, taking away all the people and relationshps we've come to rely on and tearing them apart. Sunnydale becomes a vampire-ridden post-apocalyptic wasteland in which the High School populous has been decimated by the Master's forces, including Xander and Willow, now all vamped up and wearing leather. The other characters' paths are altered too without Buffy there to rally them; Giles never becomes a Watcher and is instead left leading the opposing human forces, including a not-so-meathead Larry and Oz, the Master was never killed by Buffy and so reigns supreme whilst Angel is locked in a cage and tortured whenever Willow feels like it. And Buffy? She's all badass and clearly unable to reconcile her high school life with the tortures of being a Slayer on a Hellmouth in Cleveland, Ohio.

The horror alone of seeing Buffy a little more on the Faith side of slaying is enough to make this episode a standout and Sarah Michelle Gellar's performance is great. She clearly revels getting a chance to play up the soldier side of the character and sells it, combat suited, jackbooted and with a nasty lip scar to match. Her entrance is brilliant, a stark contrast to her first appearance in the series itself. Here, she's heard before she is seen, her victims flying through the air and saving Giles from them all. Even Gellar's diminutive frame looks imposing in the low-angled shot that introduces the new, more mercenary Buffy.

She's not the only one having fun as we get our first glimpse of Alyson Hannigan's Evil Willow, here in vampiric and slightly kinky form with her catchphrase 'bored now' making its first appearance as well. It's fun that her relationship with Xander carries on into this world too, showing how they were always going to remain friends. Even with fangs. Not everyone fares so well in the transition. Bless Nicholas Brendon. He can carry the humour and the emotional stuff well, but he doesn't make a very good villain, particularly next to the returning Mark Metcalf as the first season's Big Bad, the Master.

There are a lot of neat links and twists made across the episode to the Sunnydale we know and love. Cordelia's transition from the old town to the new bizarro version is expertly done, handling a wealth of exposition in just a couple of short scenes. The audience quickly learns that vampires have taken over, the humans have brought in several rules to ensure that people stay safe with the vampire threat and the usual hangouts like The Bronze have been taken over. These few scenes cut quickly to the chase and allows the meat of the episode to be taken up with the fight against the Master and Giles' quest to stop Anyanka's creation.

The character work that has gone into all of the previous episodes before getting to this one guarantees that the final, climactic battle packs a visceral punch. The slow motion fight that sees Xander staked by Buffy without ever being friends, Oz dust Willow, Angel staked with barely a reaction from Buffy and then having her neck broken by the Master still galls even after all this time. It's a haunting moment and scored beautifully, offering a glimpse at what might have been. Even though we know that Giles will smash Anyanka's amulet and ensure that Buffy's not really dead, we still have to go through it and see these characters destroy each other.

There's a couple of nitpicky questions that could be asked of this episode (Where's Darla and Luke if Angel and Buffy never killed them? Why is Jesse not alive? Should Jenny be there too?) but largely, it's something particularly brilliant. When it comes to the character of Buffy, it highlights just how different she is from her predecessors in the 'true' version of Sunnydale. Bizarro Buffy is practically dead inside already and holds her life pretty cheaply, having nothing to cling on to in the world because she never met Xander, Willow or Giles. Even Cordelia is defended by her at some point in the episode. 

Like many episodes throughout the series' run, the concept of family is central to the proceedings, but here it is not so much for the characters' benefit, as it is in Tara-centric Season Four episode, the conveniently titled Family, but for the audience. It offers a brief glimpse into Buffy's world if she really was as alone as previous Slayers had been before her, if she didn't have the guidance of Giles in her life and if she lost everything she needed to keep her going. It's no small leap to say that the Buffy of The Wish is very similar in tone to the Buffy that returns from the dead in Season Six when she is struggling to reconnect with the world around her. Okay, she doesn't wear combat fatigues and spit on her shoes, but there's that same steely coldness that creeps into her reactions.

There's also an interesting parallel drawn between the suffering Cordelia and Bizarro Buffy. Although Cordy would never like to admit it, she shares a lot in common with Buffy and that's what makes their relationship so fractious. Buffy attempts to offer Cordelia her support, in much the same way that Cordy offered Buffy hers during When She Was Bad. Their conversation even takes place in the exact same spot outside The Bronze.

Neither particularly wants to acknowledge their common ground, but The Wish highlights it another way. Cordelia finds herself abandoned by both the Scoobies and her old friends in the normal world as well as being comically out of touch with the Bizarro one. Buffy too is alone, unwilling to work with others to achieve anything. Both characters don't survive to the end of the Bizarro timeline. For both characters, their isolation proves to be their undoing.

As I said at the beginning of the post, usually the reset button is a concept I abhor in television episodes because it's usually just an excuse to play in another sandbox for a bit whilst leaving the original unattended and undeveloped. However, The Wish is a masterful example, one that offers a chance to glimpse something so far away from the usual state of affairs whilst also allowing the audience to develop their understanding of the characters involved. Plus, Anya's arrived. That's never a bad thing.

Quote of the Week:

Anyanka: You trusting fool! How do you know the other world is any better than this?
Giles: Because it has to be.

Let's Get Trivial: This won't be the last time we see this reality. We'll check back in later in the season with Doppelgangland.

Inventive Kill: An unnamed Cordette is exsanguinated as the Master perfects the mass production of blood. I'm also really happy I just got to use the word 'exsanguinated'.

Demonology 101: The Pergamum Codex prophecy that comes to pass in Prophecy Girl with Buffy's death at the hands of the Master happens once again here, confirming that there really was no way of thwarting it before she died.

Sunnydale Who's Who: Said Cordette drained in the factory process is played by Nicole Bilderback, who would later go on to star in Bring It On with fellow Buffy alumni Eliza Dushku and Clare Kramer (Glory).

- Becky

You can check out Becky's review of previous episode, Lovers' Walk, here.

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Monday, 28 July 2014

FEATURE: Movie Talk on Sundays - Heroes and Villains (10th August)

On Sunday 10th August, I’ll be hosting the Twitter phenomenon that is #MTOS. If you haven’t taken part before, #MTOS is a weekly meeting of film enthusiasts, getting together for a big old discussion. I’ll be asking ten questions, one every ten minutes from 8pm (GMT) and all you need to do is post your response and tag it with the #MTOS hashtag.

This time, I'm interested in the rocks and the hard places of our favourite stories, the unstoppable forces meeting the immoveable objects. In short, the heroes and the villains. Long the opposing staples of a story, the clash between a hero and a villain forms the backbone of many a narrative from romantic comedies to sword and sandals epics. What I'm interested in is finding out what makes you guys tick when it comes to the battles between good and evil.

So without further ado, here are my questions for Sunday:

1). Easy two to kick off with: Who is your favourite cinematic hero?

2). Who is your favourite cinematic villain?

3). Which cinematic hero versus villain clash is your favourite?

4). What makes for a good hero versus villain confrontation?

5). Does a particular genre succeed at creating better hero and villain pairings?

6). Do you believe in the idea that a hero is only as good as the villain they are facing?

7). Do you prefer your heroes and villains straight up good and evil or a little more morally grey?

8). Do heroes and villains with superpowers make for more satisfying climactic clashes?

9). Any hero. Any villain. Anywhere. What would be your ultimate adversarial smackdown?

10). Your answers for Question 9 are locked in battle. Who would win and why?

I look forward to seeing your answers!

- Becky

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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

FEATURE: Film Bloggers' Sci-Fi Top 10

By now, everyone should have seen the list of the "100 best sci-fi movies" that Time Out magazine has just thrown up (if you haven't, check it out here). As it's Time Out, the list is made up of choices from not only filmmakers but also leading critics as well as actual scientists. Who can beat that?

We can. As the film blogging community is always very enthusiastic towards genre, whether it's Under the Skin or Guardians of the Galaxy, what we'd like to do is drill down a bit and find out what the community sees as the best science fiction movies. 100 is a bit nuts, so what we're going to do is turn it down to ten, so hopefully the end result will be the 10 best sci-fi movies according to the film blogging community.

What'd we'd like you to do is simple - send us your list of top ten sci-fi films and who you write for (so we can link to your site), along with a paragraph on your top choice and why you chose it. That'll give us a little bit of meat to post when it all goes up, instead of endless lists.

We're aiming to have all the entries in by Saturday August 9th - so if you want to participate, just email your choices to - and we look forward to reading your choices!

- Charlie

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Thursday, 17 July 2014

FEATURE: Expanding the Universe - Star Wars Issues #1-#6

Everyone has a story when it comes to Star Wars, and I'm certainly no different. But unlike most folks', which begins with it being the first film they saw in the cinema and that kind of thing, mine at least starts a little differently. It began with snowspeeders.

I don't really know for sure if The Empire Strikes Back was the first film I ever saw, or if it was the original Star Wars, but one of my earliest memories is of a grainy stretched image of the aforementioned snowspeeders rocketing over the snow plains of Hoth. It was grainy and stretched because it was a pirated VHS - this was 1982 - with poor quality and stretched due to the aspect ratio not being adjusted as with pan and scan. This was not the ideal way to view the film, but nevertheless, from that moment onwards I was a rabid fan of that galaxy far, far away. And yes, the first film I saw in a cinema was a Star Wars movie (Return of the Jedi to be precise). Now one of the direct offshoots of the pirate experience was my love affair with Marvel's run of Star Wars comics, specifically their reprints in the UK.

Star Wars was a huge deal for Marvel, but at the time it almost wasn't a deal at all. With the original film seen as a low-budget B-movie that was a potential disaster, Lucasfilm's marketing team went out to try and make deals with all sorts of merchandise companies to create tie-ins to raise awareness of the forthcoming film. They were turned down by a lot of people (toy company Mego for one), as well as Stan Lee at Marvel, and it wasn't until editor Roy Thomas went to Lee and showed him what Star Wars potentially had both in terms of story, but also monetary value.

Funnily enough, it actually was seen by many as saving Marvel from going under. Marvel's run was a huge undertaking, with a revolving creative team of people like Carmine Infantino, Al Williamson, Mary Jo Duffy, Howard Chaykin, and Archie Goodwin, and introduced a vast number of colourful characters to the universe, as well as adapting the three movies of the original trilogy. The Marvel series in the UK was published weekly rather than the usual monthly comics cycle, and as such we got a quarter of a story per week, which wasn't brilliant but at least it felt like better value because it was 20p per day as well as being magazine-sized. Also notable were the titles: while the US comic run was simply known as "Star Wars", the title of the UK mag changed dependent on which film was out at the time, there for we had Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return Of The Jedi weekly, with the latter being the one my mother used to buy for me from Tesco.

So this is both a voyage of nostalgia and discovery, as I go back through Marvel's run seeing what holds up, what doesn't, and whether any of it is as good as it used to be. If you have an mp3 of the Fox Fanfare, you should play that now.

Issue #1 - #6 - STAR WARS

#1: Star Wars; #2: Six Against The Galaxy; #3: Death Star; #4: In Battle With Darth Vader; #5: Lo, The Moons of Yavin; #6: The Final Chapter?

The first six issues of Star Wars were devoted to the adaptation of the original film, by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha. Like many comic adaptations, it was quite different in places to the film due to the huge lead-in periods for these kind of things. You actually wonder which cut was viewed - some scenes are in a different order, notably the "Help I think I'm melting!" line from C-3PO, which was originally to happen aboard the blockade runner but was switched to the TIE fighter attack near the end - here, it's back at the beginning.

It's also full of scenes cut from the film, notably new material concerning Luke Skywalker. While much of this has now been seen on the blu-ray (with the more hardcore geeks seeing it on the Behind The Magic CD-ROM) including the infamous Biggs scene, this was a major thing, especially after everyone who read the comic saw the film. We also get a glimpse at Jabba the Hutt, although instead of the Scottish actor in a furry costume, we instead get a different alien in his place, and a bipedal one at that.

The comic has a weird feel, not in an especially bad way, but it doesn't really feel a hundred percent like Star Wars. It captures the space opera part of it, and there's a certain throwback to the pulp stories and old westerns, especially with the dialogue. It's interesting reading the comic and seeing new lines filled in the space before and after existing lines (although there's nothing to say they weren't in the script), especially when they're illustrative - the scene where Princess Leia is captured, you have the stormtrooper saying "Set for stun!" as in the film, but Leia replies with "I've set mine to KILL!" - and it has a neat effect of adding a new dimension to the film, especially if, like me, you've seen it trillions of times.

One thing the comic doesn't fare so well in is capturing the innocent fairytale spirit of the film. It was something that seemingly felt so effortless, and I have a feeling it's very much to do with John Williams' musical score. Star Wars has been described many times, not least by George Lucas, as a silent film, and it's right on the nose. But with that, Williams' music fills in the narrative and emotional blanks not covered by the visuals, so when you have those memorable sequences, like when Princess Leia gives the tapes to Artoo (which has a strange narrated part intimating that C-3PO thinks Leia is “probably beautiful by human standards”, or even the most iconic part, Luke looking at the twin suns, the music supports the film so the comic either adds in dialogue or narration, or in the case of the latter, excises it completely.

The artwork is a strange beast. Credited to Chaykin and Leiahola, sometimes as illustrators, sometimes with Chaykin as illustrator and Leiahola as “embellisher”, it often seems like they were given sections, as the style changes like the wind. I prefer Chaykin's, as it has a bit of a rougher style, but Leiahola's is perhaps more traditional. It's all relatively faithful, give or take a few things. Chewie always looks more like an ape, especially as they use two-tone to distinguish his facial features, and there's a weird TIE fighter pilot who, with his/her elongated helmet and ear muffs, looks right out of a Polish film poster. The Millennium Falcon suffers a bit as well, with most of its surface detail wiped out, kind of missing the point about the style of the ship.

I do enjoy Thomas' dialogue and narration - it's very brash and fits in with the film's fast-talking dialogue style. The narration is fun and has to support the story a lot, so there's little bits like “like angry mosquitos, the rebel fighters streak upward from their hidden hangars” and “the rebel leader spoke earlier of its one weakness which may be exploited if the space gods are kind”. My favourite is the final panel, where as the gang get their medals (we're actually told Chewie will get one but Leia isn't tall enough to put it on) and it ends with “What the future holds for these six daring souls, only time and the space-winds know. But, for today... for now... they are content.” Poetry.

There are a few other inaccuracies – Luke's call-sign is 'Blue Five', which was actually the same as in the novel by Alan Dean Foster. I have a feeling that somewhere along the line they changed it to red due to the high use of bluescreen, so it's understandable. Also, all the lightsabers are pink, which is a bit of an odd choice. I'm guessing they saw footage before it was rotoscoped, so again, I can understand it. However, there are two inappropriate kiss klaxons throughout the story, although again, back then Leia wasn't any relation to Luke so it's not a massive deal. However, it does try and play it a bit more romantic, where both kisses in the film (at the chasm and on Yavin) were pecks on the cheek, this is as hot and heavy as it gets. Pretty sure they were smoking afterwards.

It's not a bad start, really. I've seen better and worse movie adaptations, but it captures the swashbuckling nature of the film fairly well, and it's a fun read. It's strange to see characters and events that you've spent your life revisiting reinterpreted, and if I have a big criticism, it's that the characters maybe weren't distilled down enough, especially with Luke. This doesn't really feel like his story, more that he's just one of the gang, which is perhaps a bit of a cardinal sin. But like the original film, it's a jumping off point with a galaxy full of potential for all kinds of stories. Who knows what we'll see?

Next: New Planets, New Perils!

- Charlie

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